Fighting Faith’s Battles in the Courtroom
Clients facing a courtroom battle naturally react with some fear and trepidation, but when their case involves
issues surrounding the practice of their faith and religious liberty, the experience takes on a whole new
perspective. Such cases can often test the sincerity of the client’s faith, and require an advocate that is
experienced and presenting legal arguments why it is essential to protect the client’s constitutional right to live
out the dictates of their faith.
Larry Crain began taking on such cases early in his law practice. He now is regarded by many in the religious
liberty field as one of the most experienced attorneys in the nation on matters of First Amendment litigation. His
client list includes a wide range of individuals, religious leaders, students, pastors and ministries across the
country that he has represented in court cases involving challenges to their religious freedom, and the list
continues to grow.
“Just recently, I was in court with a Pastor and members from his church. We were arguing a very hotly
contested case over certain doctrinal positions taken by the church. When I return to my office after winning
the argument, I received an email from the Pastor who said he noticed that I had bowed my head to say a
prayer before the case was called. The Pastor commented: “We knew then we had the right lawyer who looks
to God for his help.”
Crain’s commitment to defending those who face challenges over their religious freedoms has led to some
unusual cases and important victories. That it has also cultivated a deep respect and admiration for the stands
taken by his clients over the years.
“It is important for Christians who put in action their call to be salt and light to understand that it can, and often
does, come with a price.” Some of the cases he has handled here in Tennessee have borne out this truth.
Some years ago, Crain received a phone call from the mother of a child enrolled as a second-grader in an
elementary school in Middle Tennessee. Dorian Crowell was asked in his second grade class to write a story
about Winter. Dorian began his story: “My favorite part of Winter is Jesus…” When his teacher saw him writing
the story at this desk, she immediately took up it up before he could finish it, wadded the paper up into a ball
and threw it in the trash. When Dorian asked his teacher why she did this, the teacher replied: “ You can’t use
that name in your story?” Incidentally, the name of the school was “Liberty Elementary.”
Students suspended for passing out religious tracts, valedictorians censored for sharing their faith in Christ,
teachers forbidden from keeping a Bible on their desks, ministers banned from school cafeterias to have lunch
at the invitation of a young person from their Church, professors denied tenure track because they espouse a
Christian world view, these are but a few types of cases Crain has handled.
“I believe that scripture teaches us that those who live out the dictates of their faith in Christ are to expect
persecution. Paul was quite explicit in saying this was to be expected by everyone who follows Jesus.” 2 Tim
3:12 “Indeed, all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Advice to Clients
There are some lessons learned through his years of work in the area of constitutional litigation that Crain says
can be passed on to clients today.
● Preparation. There is simply no substitute for preparation when taking on a legal challenge to one’s
religious faith in court. This means focusing on the factual details of the case, and making sure the
client understands that many times their case can turn on very subtle nuances. How consistent have
they been in making their religious faith a priority in all areas of their daily walk? Humility is an important
factor until they have interacted with those who opposed their actions. Realizing that we live in a fallen
culture today in which judges often view “through a darkened glass” the importance of their faith to
them. Care must also be taken in what Crain calls the “characterization” of their case. Casting a
client’s case as one based on freedom of expression, for example, may present the best argument for
why their constitutional rights have been violated.
● Perseverance– Constitutional litigation is not for the feint of heart. Few clients go into a lawsuit with a
full appreciation for how their faith will be tested, and how important it is to stay the course. Crain
spends several hours preparing his clients for depositions and cross-examination. “This is where
oftentimes one’s faith is put to the test, says Crain. “But I have seen miracles take place in a courtroom.
Skilled prosecutors stumbling for words when cross-examining a student testifying about their
commitment to Christ. Judges who interrupt the trial to express their admiration for a pastor’s sacrifice
to his community of believers. This is the fruit born of perseverance, and in a courtroom, the truth can
feel like a breath of fresh air.”
● Praise– Crain makes it a practice to remind his clients to develop an attitude of praise in the midst of
their trial. He is quick to point out the admonition in 2 Chronicles 20:15: “Do not be afraid and do not
be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” It is important to remember that
while the conflict appears to be an over-zealous prosecutor, or a government worker, they are not the
enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the
heavenly places. Eph. 6:12.